Umngazi Hotel and Spa, one of South Africa’s premier family holiday destinations, is situated on a magnificent stretch of the wild coast at the mouth of the Umngazi River, 8km down the coast from Port St John’s.
Umngazi evolved over many years, from the small Cwebeni trading station established in 1906, to the popular seaside hotel that exists today.
Documents sourced from the Cape Town archives confirm that Mr Frank Walter Gladwin was in possession of the Cwebeni trading store in 1906. The site was 5 morgen (4.7 hectare) in extent and permission to occupy the site was obtained from Hlamvana, the local headman who presided over this area from 1875 to 1918.
In October 1907, F.W. Gladwin sold the Cwebeni trading store to Mrs Suzanna Lloyd, who lived and traded at the Mouth of the Umngazi River until 1922, when the store was transferred into the name of her son, Frederick Joseph Lloyd.
In 1924 Frederick Joseph Lloyd sold the Cwebeni trading store to Owen Leach and moved to 2nd Beach, Port St Johns.
Owen and Dorothy Leach had been farming in the new Amalfi district near Kokstad. They sold the farm “Sheep Run” and, together with their young children Ines, Brian, Basil and Ronald, relocated to their new home on the east bank of the mouth of the Umngazi River. Their fifth child, Rae, another daughter, was born at Umngazi.
Leach Children’s Education & World War II
The early education of the leach children was undertaken by a governess Mrs Milton and then Mrs Hazel Locke. Later on the children were sent to boarding school in Umtata. With the outbreak of the second world war, the Leach boys, Brian, Basil and Ronald (nickname Gungi) all signed up to do their duty for their country. Gungi was killed in action and only Brian and Basil returned home to Umngazi. During the war years Owen and Dorothy kept the boarding house going and added several more bungalows. Owen put his farming expertise to good and grew vegetables and fruit for use in the boarding house. Guests from all parts of the country returned to the boarding House on a regular basis and it became a popular fishing and family holiday venue. The fledgling holiday resort maturing and becoming better known
(Ancedotes from the Leach Diary)
In 1927 Fleischer Cottage was built and named after family friends from Johannesburg, who frequently visited the Leaches at Cwebeni. They were so taken with the picturesque location that they offered to build a Fisherman’s Cottage, now known as bungalow no 9, on the small ridge overlooking the sea and the river. This cottage and subsequent cottages were built by Percy van der Bijl, who was Owen Leach’s resident builder and maintenance advisor, and the Fleischer Cottage was let to friends and acquaintances when the Fleischer were not ‘in house’. This prompted Owen to build several more Fisherman’s cottages in 1929.
The demand for accommodation grew until in 1932 and Owen decided to build a boarding house with the help of a Mr Berry. The rectangular building housed a small kitchen, dining room and a lounge. Alongside this were six bedrooms that led out onto a long veranda. In 1936 the boarding house was expanded and a generator was installed to provide electricity.
Owen Leach was a very keen fisherman and was always available to accompany guests on fishing outings. Gillies were hired to collect bait and assist enthusiastic fisherman who often spent the night out fishing at one of the many favourite points or gullies nearby, Brazenhead being one of the more popular.
World War II
With the outbreak of the second world war, the Leach boys, Brian, Basil and Ronald all signed up to do their duty for their country. Ronald was killed in action and only Brian and Basil returned home to Umngazi. During the war years Owen and Dorothy kept the boarding house going and added several more bungalows. As geusts from all parts of the country returned on a regular basis, Umngazi’s reputation as a family a resort and fishing destination grew.
During these years, the trading store was still the main source of income. Originally situated overlooking the river where bungalow’s 16 and 17 stand today, it was later moved to near the back gate behind the Leach Homestead to make way for more accommodation.
When the Leach boys returned from the war, Brian being the eldest, took over the management of the boarding house but in 1947 he left for the Witwaterstrand. In the interim Basil had married Christine Quirk and the newlywed couple took over running of what soon became ‘The Bungalows’, where their three children Wendy, Ken and Peter all grew up.
In 1949 Owen Leach died and his wife Dorothy moved to Port Shepstone.
In 1952 Christine’s parents, Mr and Mrs Quirk arrived to assist with the running of the trading store and the expanding resort.
During the 50s and early 60s, The Bungalows was a thriving resort and Basil built a tennis court, added more bungalows, bought a ski boat and built a small chip-and-putt ‘golf course’ on the hillside.
There was now much more for the guests to do – tennis, deep-sea fishing and fun golf added to the guest’s enjoyment of their holidays.
In 1964, Mr Quirk passed away and in 1971 Basil and Christine were divorced. Basil then married Trish Wishardt and the two lived happily at The Bungalows until 1977 when it was purchased by the Transkei Development Corporation (TDC). The name changed to Umngazi River Bungalows which was, by now, a very well-known holiday resort.
Umngazi River Bungalows
After the TDC buyout In 1977, the Leach family relocated to Knysna. The TDC employed capable managers who ran the resort sucessfully until 1984, when it was sold to a Transkei company who changed the name to Umngazi River Bungalows Pty Ltd, and they too employed managers to run the resort. Initially the resort continued to operate successfully but, as the political situation in South Africa deteriorated, so did the occupancies to manage the resort, and so the business went into liquidation in 1993.
On 9 November 1994, liquidators Ernst & Young announced that the tender submitted by Mr Pat Goss of Lusikisiki had been accepted. The Bungalows had new owners.
The Years 1994 – 2000
The Goss family, who had worked and lived in Lusikisiki and Port St Johns for decades, were very familiar with Umngazi. As long standing friends of the Leach family, they created a library of memories at the hotel.
Pat Goss, a sixth generation Transkeian trading businesses in Lusikisiki, together with his wife Karin, and assisted by friend and interior designer Bev Karon, immediately set out to give the resort a much-needed, temporary face-lift in preparation for the 1993 Christmas holiday season.
However a more thorough revamp and refurbishment was sorely needed and on the day of South Africa’s first democratic elections, the 27th of April 1994, builders moved on site and, in sheer earnest, the transformation of Umngazi commenced. The old main building was demolished in phases and new buildings with thatched roofs were built to house the bar, the lounges, the reception and office areas and the dining room.
An award-winning, unique, beach hotel and spa on the Wild Coast of South Africa.
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Tel No: 047-564 1115/6/8/9
Wild Coast, Eastern Cape, South Africa
GPS COORDINATES: S 31 36.680 E 29 25.938